Pa. Chief Justice Castille replaced by colleague Eakin as liaison to Phila. courts

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, one of two Philadelphia-

area natives on the bench, and a former district attorney in the City of Brotherly Love, has been removed by his colleagues as the high court’s liaison to Philadelphia’s court system.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts announced Jan. 10 that Castille was ousted from his position after his fellow justices voted to instead send Justice J. Michael Eakin as the overseer of the First Judicial District.

The AOPC stated that Eakin, who hails from the Harrisburg area, has been assigned to lead the continued reform efforts in Philadelphia that were begun under the watch of Castille, which include criminal justice reforms.

“Under the chief’s leadership, judges and staff in the First Judicial District have worked hard to achieve meaningful advances at all levels and in all functions of Philadelphia’s courts,” Eakin said in a statement released by the AOPC. “Thorny issues have been resolved, and recommendations have been made that will continue to be implemented.”

In his own statement, Castille noted that he has served as liaison justice to the Philadelphia court system, which includes the Court of Common Pleas, Municipal Court and Traffic Court, since 2007, and that he is proud of the accomplishments he achieved while serving in that position.

However, the chief justice stated, “every prudent organization plans for continuity in its management. Justice Eakin’s appointment helps to achieve that objective and allows me to continue to lead the Unified Judicial System as it faces numerous significant administrative and jurisprudential issues, including obtaining an adequate budget and other statewide reforms.”

Eakin noted that he anticipates continuing to work closely with Castille, his other colleagues on the high court and the judges and staff of the First Judicial District.

“The beginning of this new year is an appropriate time for this transaction to take effect,” Eakin stated. “The chief justice’s day-to-day responsibilities are immense and include jurisprudential and administrative leadership of the entire Unified Judicial System. At no time in court history has any chief justice been burdened by so many statewide duties and the significant work that overseeing Philadelphia court reforms requires.”

A portion of Castille’s tenure as liaison justice to the First Judicial District was slightly tainted by the legal malpractice case Castille and the FJD initiated against attorney Jeffrey Rotwitt and the law firm Rotwitt had formerly worked for, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel.

The lawsuit, which finally settled last month for $4 million, alleged that Rotwitt failed to disclose his dual role as both attorney working for the FJD and co-developer on a project to secure a new location for a new family courthouse facility in Philadelphia.

Castille was listed as a plaintiff in that case because of his position as the high court’s overseer of the FJD.

While the issue is not addressed in the AOPC’s announcement regarding Eakin replacing Castille as the FJD’s liaison, local media has been reporting that the other justices on the high court were riled over a report by attorney William Chadwick that exposed allegations of ticket-fixing for the politically connected in Philadelphia.

The report, which was commissioned by Castille, concluded that those in the know would often get their tickets at the Philadelphia Traffic Court thrown out while average citizens would still be on the hook for their own fines.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that the other justices on the high court, especially the other Philadelphia native on the bench, Justice Seamus McCaffery, were incensed by the public release of Chadwick’s report because consideration was never given to the possibility of making the report an internal court document.

McCaffery was particularly upset, the Inquirer reported, because he himself was named in the report, which suggested that McCaffery had pulled some strings to get a Philadelphia Traffic Court judge to dismiss a traffic ticket that had been issued to McCaffery’s wife.

McCaffery has since denied that he attempted to have the ticket fixed, the newspaper stated, saying that it was all a misunderstanding.

The Inquirer reported that Castille, once Philadelphia’s top law enforcer, and McCaffery, a former Philly cop, were at onetime very close allies, being that they are the only two Philadelphians on the Supreme Court, but that their relationship has been strained since the release of Chadwick’s report.

The high court is currently down one justice with the suspension of Joan Orie Melvin, who awaits trial later this month on criminal accusations that she used her former Superior Court staff to help her get elected to the Supreme Court.

Orie Melvin’s public corruption trial will take place in Allegheny County, in western Pennsylvania, which is where she hails from.

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